The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I: the Humility of Power

Presented by Margaret J. Oakes.

Elizabeth I was regarded with awe by her people in her own lifetime, but she frequently communicated with her subjects as well as her fellow monarchs and counselors. Her avenues of communication were much more limited than those used by most politicians nowadays; Elizabeth only had at her disposal official written communications and public appearances. However, we also have the benefit of being able to read dozens of Elizabeth’s letters from throughout her life. This other means of communication – written messages, in the form of personal, diplomatic, and political letters – were created with the same attention to the delicacy of the situation, her relationship with the speaker, and, most importantly, her underlying objective in writing the letter in the first place. This talk will explore the surprisingly distinctive voices in Elizabeth’s letters as she assesses the relative degrees of power between her and the recipient of the letter, plays the recipient’s desires and weaknesses, and offers the right mixture of praise, conciliation, advice, and sometimes veiled threats, depending on the situation.

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